© Juan Manuel Sanz / ICEX
The food of Spain has long bored me. Though I have visited the country several times, not once have I been impressed by the cuisine. Indeed, as a God fearing Jew, the DNA of Spanish gastronomy – shellfish and pork – transformed the cuisine into a gastronomic pathway to hell. To visit Spain was to experience the food culture at arm’s length. I would watch the Spaniards de-shell prawns and indulge in charcuteria before I consumed the uninspired, though ‘safe’, foods the country offered: canned tuna, omelets, deep fried peppers. The food of Spain, as I knew it, was far from exciting.
Back in England, Spanish restaurants, which entailed high prices for simple, vegetable-centric tapas, proved equally monotonous. Suffice to say, I had no interest in Spain, let alone her gastronomy that promised eternal damnation.
However, in time, my religious devotion crumbled and Spanish cuisine gradually opened her arms, welcoming me into her forbidden embrace. With the opening of London-based tapas restaurant, Barrafina, I came to learn of Pulpo a feira, a simple, though delicious, dish originating from the Galician region. It consists of boiled octopus, paprika, fruity olive oil and rock salt. It has a simple, yet haunting flavor.
Then, one autumn day, as I wondered around one of London’s many international food markets, I befriended the devil. She appeared as a handsome woman, with a welcome smile and a confidence that hypnotized.
“Hey, come and try some of our Spanish ham.”
“I would love to, but I don’t eat pork.”
Her mysterious eyes tinkled; “Well then, let me tempt you some free ham…”
Her knife slide across the ham, a thin paper thin layer of marbled meat lifted from the animal. She handed me the piece of ham, the fat shimmering in the warm afternoon sun…
Recently, I met a man with an affinity for wines originating in the Rioja, region of Northern Spain. I did not care for wine, though desperate to impress, I routinely drank the complex, spicy, full-bodied liquid. I studied the industry, familiarizing myself with Tempranillo, Garnacha, Monastrell. Soon, an obsession developed. Suffice to say, I fell in love with both the wine and the man.
I am no longer the god-fearing Jew who fled from Spanish gastronomy. I am a new man with an overwhelming obsession for the food and wine of Spain. I will eventually tell the story of Northern Chinese food. However, for now, I have a different story to tell. It is the story of a cuisine rooted in hardship, in simplicity and human ingenuity.
It is the story of Spain.